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The Feast of St. Stephen
26 December 2021
Today’s Readings: Acts 6:8-10; 7:54-59; Matthew 10:17-22.
Let us pray:

Heavenly Father,
today we celebrate the entrance of St. Stephen into eternal glory. 
He died praying for those who killed him. 
Help us to imitate his goodness and to love our enemies;
through Jesus Christ our Lord,
who is alive and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and forever. 

Amen.

A Reflection from Barbara


S Stephen was one of the seven deacons appointed in the early Church to attend to food distribution and to the general needs of the poor in the community.  We are told he was filled with grace and power.  His faith was unshakably strong; his teaching was eloquent and persuasive. And it aroused hostility among some of the religious authorities.

Certain synagogue leaders were arguing with S Stephen.  But they could not hold their own when confronted with his wisdom.  In anger, they brought him before the Sanhedrin, where false witnesses accused him of blasphemy.  They dragged S Stephen out of the city and stoned him to death.  He was the first Christian martyr.   

In the account of his persecution there are marked parallels with the Passion of Jesus.  S Stephen’s accusers plotted against him, as had happened to Jesus. Jesus, too, was tried by the Sanhedrin; false witnesses brought a charge of blasphemy against Jesus.   As S Stephen is dying, he commends his spirit to the Lord, and asks for forgiveness for his killers, as Jesus does in Luke’s account of the crucifixion.

S Stephen’s mirroring of Christ seems to suggest an intimacy with Christ, a closeness to him.  It is a closeness springing from, and nurtured by, S Stephen’s profound faith.  One of his attributes is a Bible or, anachronistically, a Gospel book.  Because his whole life was based on the Gospel truth.  A prompting for us. We try to follow Jesus in service, as S Stephen did; we long for greater intimacy with Jesus.  Do we keep the Gospel ever with us, as S Stephen does in depictions of him?  This is the way to deepen our faith, and to be closer to Jesus.

S Stephen is filled with the Holy Spirit at his martyrdom.  He is granted a vision of the glorified Jesus, standing at God’s right hand.  S Stephen, in his s suffering, sees the glorified Jesus.  It is surely on account of his faith that S Stephen is open to this vision.   The vision sets before him the promises of Jesus.  Jesus has promised to be with us always;  Jesus has told us that he goes to prepare a place for us to share eternally in his glory and in the life of God.  This is S Stephen’s vision as he is dying.

It is a vision we can hold onto for ourselves in times of affliction.  If we are open to the Holy Spirit, we can know that Jesus is with us, whatever befalls us. Strengthened by our faith, we turn to the glorified Jesus, and given courage and hope by his glorification and all that it promises to us.

It seems fitting that we celebrate S Stephen the day after Christmas Day, when, in joy and delight, we greet the coming 0f the Holy Child of Bethlehem.  S Stephen, all his life, is an exemplary follower of Jesus.   But it is his vibrant faith, displayed, so strikingly at his death, that impresses us most in his story.   S Stephen draws us to think deeply about the purpose of the Incarnation, and gives us a  keen desire for a more ardent faith for ourselves as we celebrate this Christmastide.
 

Organ Voluntary


Buxtehude – Toccata in D, BuxWV 155 – played by Nathan Laube:
 
Watch here

Today’s hymn

Good King Wenceslas looked out:

Watch here

Music from Matthew


At the offertory today, Sophie will sing an arrangement of Peter Warlock’s evergreen choir carol Bethlehem Down which sets a poignant poem by Bruce Blunt. Listen out for how Warlock’s harmony becomes even more chromatic in the third and fourth verses.
 
Bethlehem Down words by Bruce Blunt (1899-1957), music by Peter Warlock (1894-1930)
 
‘When He is King we will give him the King's gifts,
Myrrh for its sweetness, and gold for a crown,
Beautiful robes’, said the young girl to Joseph
Fair with her first-born on Bethlehem Down.
 
Bethlehem Down is full of the starlight
Winds for the spices, and stars for the gold,
Mary for sleep, and for lullaby music
Songs of a shepherd by Bethlehem fold.
 
When He is King they will clothe Him in grave-sheets,
Myrrh for embalming, and wood for a crown,
He that lies now in the white arms of Mary
Sleeping so lightly on Bethlehem Down.
 
Here He has peace and a short while for dreaming,
Close-huddled oxen to keep Him from cold,
Mary for love, and for lullaby music
Songs of a shepherd by Bethlehem fold.
 
Released last year, in this recording the choir are standing in an unusual formation to accommodate social distancing:
Choir of Trinity College, Cambridge, Stephen Layton (director)
https://youtu.be/52b5ntrop3U
 
During communion, an alto aria from J.S. Bach’s Christmas Oratorio (BWV 248):
 
Bereite dich, Zion
Prepare thyself, Zion, with tender affection, the fairest, the dearest soon midst thee to see! Thy cheeks’ beauty must today shine much more brightly, hasten, the bridegroom to love with deep passion.
 
Bernarda Fink (mezzo Soprano), English Baroque Soloists, John Eliot Gardiner (conductor)
https://youtu.be/UzebyMxyKVM
 

Christmas live-stream from Gert Van Hoef

For your prayers


Please pray for the repose of the soul of Bill Saunders who died on Monday.
 
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